Creating spaces: Rolex mentor and protege Anish Kapoor & Nicholas Hlobo

Both Anish Kapoor and his Rolex Arts Initiative protégé Nicholas Hlobo had big years in the art world. Both mounted large-scale, interactive sculptures at the Venice Biennale in addition to solo exhibitions around the world. But the two artists still found time to meet at Kapoor’s London studio to develop the trajectory of Hlobo’s work.

“The only difference between the two of us is that I’ve had 30 years of making and showing stuff,” says Kapoor. And while that may not sound like much of a difference, it speaks volumes about the lessons Kapoor had for Hlobo. “It (art) needs love, care, dynamic action and inaction – living with it. Some bodies of work are latent. You need to know what is the main trajectory of your work, and what’s inside it.”

That has been a unique lesson for the South African Hlobo. Many of his pieces combine sculpture and interaction with performance, a facet noticeably absent from Kapoor’s catalogue.

“I like doing my performance pieces once only,” says Hlobo. “If I do them twice, I feel like an actor on stage and so I shouldn’t do them again.”

Interaction is a major theme for both artists. Kapoor’s large-scale sculptures usually invite the viewer inside and, consequently, dwarf the intended audience. Hlobo’s work isn’t quite as monumental, but aims to provide the viewer with an intimate, and often disconcerting, interactive experience.

During his year working with Kapoor, Hlobo had the unique experience of exhibiting in his mentor’s own country. His installation at the Liverpool Biennial incorporated his lessons from Kapoor with his signature style of combining knitting and stitching with industrial and commercial materials, such as rubber tubing and iPod ear buds.

And while the formal mentorship period has drawn to a close, Kapoor plans to continue his work with his young protégé. “I’d like our association to continue, given that one year isn’t long enough,” he says. “Visual art is not about technique: it’s about slowly unraveling the process that leads from one work to another.”

This post is sponsored by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in partnership with Sundance Channel.